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Biding his time, Jimmie Johnson pulls away at the end to win another NASCAR race in Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Georgia — Jimmie Johnson pulled away after the final restart with 13 laps to go Sunday, winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Johnson, a six-time Cup champion, started near the back after failing to get in a qualifying run because of inspection issues. But the No. 48 Chevrolet was the fastest car on the track at the end of the weekend, cruising across the finish line a comfortable 1.803 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick.

It was the 71st victory of Johnson's career, and his fourth at the 1.54-mile trioval south of Atlanta. It also gives him an almost-certain spot in the season-ending Chase, going for his record-tying seventh championship.

"It's pretty much a lock," Johnson said. "That takes a ton of pressure off."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, followed by Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano, who started from the pole and led 84 laps early in the race.

After a big crash on lap 305 brought out the red flag for 9 minutes to clean up the mess, Johnson found himself at the front of the pack. When the green flag waved, he got a good jump off the line, fended off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Earnhardt going down the backstretch, and was firmly in control by the time the cars came back around in front of the stands.

PHOTO: Jimmie Johnson (48) drives through Turn 4 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Jimmie Johnson (48) drives through Turn 4 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

There was no catching him from there.

Johnson was among four former champions, along with teammate Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, who never got on the track during qualifying. Thirteen cars were stuck in the garage after failing to pass inspection, a situation that Gordon called "embarrassing" for the sport.

Harvick, who qualified on the outside of the front row, also was sent to the back of the field after blowing an engine during Saturday's practice. He quickly worked his way through slower cars, got to the front and dominated long stretches of the race, leading a race-high 116 laps.

For much of the day, it was clean race despite a new rules package for non-restrictor plate races, which reduced horsepower and drag while giving drivers a device to adjust the car's balance during the race.

The first big crash came on lap 258, taking out Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray. Then, on lap 305, Greg Biffle clipped Joe Nemechek going into the third turn, gobbling up four other cars and bringing out the red flag.


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PHOTO: Jeff Gordon (24) hits the wall during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/Russell Norris)
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